But Democrats bristled at the GOP’s rationale for opposition. “That shouldn’t be how we have enfranchisement in our country — what’s the nature of our vote?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. “They talk about the ‘toos’ — too black, too Democrat, whatever.”
“The fact is people in the District of Columbia pay taxes, fight our wars, risk their lives for our democracy and yet, in this state they have no say, they have no vote in the House or Senate about whether we go to war and how those taxes are exacted,” Pelosi continued.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed he won’t take up the bill in the GOP-controlled Senate, even going so far as to compare D.C. statehood to “full-bore socialism.”
Other Republicans have denigrated the character of Americans living in the nation’s capital.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) took to the Senate floor on Thursday to argue that Wyoming — despite its smaller population of 500,000 people — deserved its voting rights because it is a “working class state” rather than a haven for lobbyists and the “bureaucracy” of federal workers.
“This is about power, that’s what this is about. Make no mistake about it,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said on the House floor Friday.
Democrats, led by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, have filed statehood bills for decades, arguing that D.C. residents should have the same political power as others in the United States.
But even Democrats had been divided on the issue until recent years. The House last voted on D.C. statehood in 1993, when more than 100 Democrats opposed the move — including now-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Since then, however, the Democratic Party has embraced D.C. statehood as a civil rights and voting rights issue for a city that had a majority Black population until this decade.
“The people who call our nation’s capital home have been disenfranchised and shortchanged for too long,” Hoyer said in a passionate speech on the floor evoking nationwide calls for justice for Black Americans, noting that D.C. has historically been “one of our largest African American cities.”
Hoyer also pointed out that Congress’ massive coronavirus response law delivered at least $1.25 billion to each state but only $500 million in aid to D.C. because it was categorized as a territory for federal funding purposes.
Some activists are already looking ahead to another fight. Puerto Rico, which has been a U.S. territory since 1898, has a population of nearly 3.2 million people with no voting rights in Congress.